RIVERSIDE: Pot dispensary measure can go to voters
Riverside attorney Jason Thompson and other supporters of an initiative to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in the city gave City Clerk Colleen Nicol petitions in May that qualified their measure for the June ballot. The city last week lost a legal challenge to block the measure from appearing before voters.
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A ballot initiative that would allow a small number of medical marijuana dispensaries in Riverside can go to voters in June, after a judge rejected the city’s attempt to keep it off the ballot.
Riverside Safe Access, the group promoting the measure, collected enough signatures this summer to qualify for the ballot, but attorneys for Riverside quickly sued the Riverside County Registrar of Voters to prevent the measure from proceeding, alleging it “goes beyond the legislative powers of the electorate” because it would force the city to violate state and federal laws.
In a Dec. 3 decision, San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Brian S. McCarville ruled against the city, writing that the state’s initiative process “is a right that should be jealously guarded,” and that “the better reasoned approach is to allow this type of challenge to be resolved after the voters have spoken to the issue.”
The case was moved to the San Bernardino court after the defendants argued that hearing it in Riverside County could create a conflict of interest.
The measure would legalize, tax and create regulations for a small number of medical marijuana dispensaries in Riverside, where they are now banned citywide in the zoning code. Medical marijuana supporters say dispensaries provide patients safe, local access to an important medication, but critics argue the facilities can increase crime and allow de facto recreational drug use.
“I think the judge’s decision speaks to the judge’s duty to defend the direct democratic process in the state,” said Jason Thompson, a Riverside lawyer who represented the measure’s proponents. “Now it’s up to them to run a campaign and win an election.”
The city could appeal the decision. Riverside Interim City Attorney Cristina Talley could not immediately be reached for comment.
The City Council must still take a procedural vote to place the measure on the ballot. In June, Councilman Mike Gardner said he would support sending the measure to voters if the city lost its challenge.
“If there are enough qualifying signatures, I think ethically we have to, whether you agree with it personally or not,” he said at the time.
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